Sunday, March 1, 2015

Into the Valley: Review

Into the Valley by John Hersey is a reporter's on-the-spot report of a battle which took place on October 8, 1942 on Guadalcanal. Hersey was a correspondent with Time-Life and was attached to Company H of the Marine Corps under the command of Captain Charles Rigaud. The heavy machine gun company was ordered into the valley at the Matanikau River with the goal of forcing the enemy back beyond the river.

As Hersey moves with the company and watches the men under fire, he realizes how much these Marines go through, how many of them deserve citations for their bravery, and how few of them will receive the recognition they deserve--from the runners who carry messages when radio and field telephones won't work to the men who carry the wire spools through the jungle (unable to defend themselves because you can't carry a rifle and a spool at the same time) to the medics who treat and rescue the wounded. 

He gets to know the men very quickly in his short time with them and he asks them the one question he truly wants to know. What are they fighting for? When it comes down to it...out there in the unfamiliar jungles, when it seems like your company is the only one doing its job...what are you fighting for? The answer surprises him until he recognizes it for what it is:

They did not answer for a long time.

Then one of them spoke, but not to me...and for a second I thought he was changing the subject or making fun of me, but of course he was not. He was answering my question very specifically.

He whispered: "Jesus, what I'd give for a piece of blueberry pie." Another whispered: "Personally I prefer mince." A third whispered: "Make mine apple with a few raisins in it and lots of cinnamon: you know, Southern style."

Fighting for pie. Of course that is not exactly what they meant. Here, in a place where they lived for several weeks mostly on captured Japanese rice, then finally had gone on to such delicacies as canned corned beef and Navy beans, where they were usually hungry and never given a treat--here pie was their symbol of home.

Hersey's book is a fine piece of war reporting. He gives us the feel of battle with all the sights and sounds, with all the fears and acts of bravery. We see the men digging shallow grave-like holes to bed down in at night, fording streams, and carrying their fallen comrades from the field of battle. We hear the underlying homesickness and worry that they might not see that home again--but we also see the courage that drives their Captain to make them hold their ground until they can retreat in good order. An interesting peek into the history of World War II. ★★ and a half.


fredamans said...

The fact that it is based on real events is what piques me most! Great review!

Karen K. said...

I've never heard of this book but I really loved Hersey's "A Bell for Adano." I'll have to look for this one. Thanks for linking your review to the Back to the Classics Challenge!